Written by Robyn Brush, LAc—Licensed Acupuncturist at Wiseman Family Practice
Acupuncture is a treatment that involves insertion of very fine needles into specific points on the body. Acupuncture is used to treat a variety of medical conditions and restore overall balance to the body to promote health and longevity.
Acupuncture has been practiced in China for at least 3000 years. It first became popular in the United States in 1971 when the Vice President of the New York Times, John Reston, had an emergency appendectomy during a trip to China and was treated with acupuncture to relieve his post-operative pain . Today, the number of Americans who use acupuncture is growing , and the use of acupuncture is being employed by hospitals and larger institutions such as the VA (Veterans Affairs), and is covered by many insurance plans.
Still, many people have questions about acupuncture and are curious about what to expect from an acupuncture treatment. Here we answer some of the most commonly asked questions about acupuncture:
1. Do acupuncture needles hurt?
This is the most commonly asked question. Acupuncture needles are quite different from the needles that are used to draw blood or give injections (hypodermic needles). While a hypodermic needle is hollow, an acupuncture needle is solid with a fine point for easy insertion. An acupuncture needle is also significantly thinner — about the diameter of a human hair. Roughly 30 acupuncture needles can fit inside the barrel of a hypodermic needle. You may feel a small prick, pressure, tingling, or no sensation at all. Some points may be more sensitive than others due to having a stronger energetic action.
2. How does acupuncture work?
Acupuncture works to restore balance to the body by relieving blockages on specific acupuncture channels, and by promoting smooth flow of energy, or Qi. In recent years, there has been a growing interest in understanding how acupuncture affects the body physiologically and biochemically. We now understand that many acupuncture points consist of vascular bundles of nerves in connective tissue which pass through holes in fascia, the thin tissue that envelopes muscle . We also know that when acupuncture needles are inserted into the skin, this triggers a release of ATP and adenosine , signaling molecules that play a multitude of roles within every system of the body. Acupuncture triggers a local release of several other chemicals as well, including endorphins, which are in part responsible for the pain-relieving effect of acupuncture.
3. What does acupuncture treat?
Hundreds of clinical studies have shown acupuncture’s effectiveness on a wide range of symptoms and illnesses from musculoskeletal pain, to anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, and many more. The World Health Organization recommends acupuncture for over 100 conditions based on evidence from case-controlled studies where therapeutic effect has been proven or shown. 
4. Is acupuncture safe?
Acupuncture is one of the safest medical procedures available. Licensed acupuncturists must have a minimum of a master’s degree with an average of 4 years of medical training and extensive knowledge of safety precautions. All licensed acupuncturists (LAc) are required by law to use only single-use sterile needles. Minor adverse events are possible, including bruising (most common), temporary pain at the site of needle insertion, fatigue, headache, and uncommonly, local infection.  Major adverse events, such as pneumothorax or hepatitis B infection, are extremely rare. One cumulative review found the risk of serious adverse event from an acupuncture treatment is estimated to be .05 per 10,000 treatments, and .55 per 10,000 individual patients (.0055%). 
5. How often do I need to come in? How many treatments do I need?
The frequency and number of acupuncture treatments needed varies depending on an individual’s unique needs. As a general rule, acute conditions (e.g., a common cold or a recently sprained ankle) require more frequent appointments for a shorter period of time, such as 2 visits a week for 2 weeks, while chronic conditions often require less frequent visits over a longer period of time. A common treatment schedule may be once a week for 6–8 weeks. Similar to exercise and healthy eating habits, consistency is key for achieving lasting progress.
Acupuncture works to restore balance to the body and is a great form of preventative medicine. As such, many people continue with acupuncture treatments once a month or once every few months to prevent the recurrence of symptoms and to ward off the development of any future health concerns.
6. How should I prepare for my acupuncture treatment?
• Eat a small meal at least 2 hours before your acupuncture appointment to maximize the effectiveness of the treatment and prevent feelings of lightheadedness.
• Avoid consuming caffeine right before your appointment. One of the effects of acupuncture is to bring your body into a parasympathetic state, in other words to bring you out of the fight-or-flight response. Caffeine or other stimulants may counteract this effect to some extent.
• Bring a list of medications and supplements you are currently taking. If you and your acupuncturist decide that herbal medicine is right for you, your acupuncturist will evaluate your other medications and supplements to ensure the herbs prescribed will not interact with anything you are currently taking.
• Wear loose-fitting clothing. This will make it easier for your acupuncturist to place the needles and will also allow you to feel more comfortable during treatment. If your appointment is in the middle of your workday, however, your acupuncturist can provide you with options to change at the office.
• This one might sound a little strange, but don’t brush or scrape your tongue the morning of your appointment. Your acupuncturist may ask to examine your tongue — the color, texture, and coating of your tongue all provide useful diagnostic information.
• Be gentle with your schedule on days that you have acupuncture appointments. This will allow the effects of the treatment to fully take effect. Most people report feeling very calm after a session, so you may not have the energy to jump straight back to a busy workday immediately after an appointment.
7. What other treatments may be offered through my acupuncturist?
Acupuncturists may be trained in a number of other modalities. They may offer cupping therapy; Tuina (a body work therapy); Gua sha (also known as scraping); herbal medicine; electrical stimulation where a small electrical current is applied to the needles for muscle relaxation, nerve repair, and blockage of pain signals; moxibustion where the herb Chinese Mugwort is burned near the skin, applying warmth to the area; Chinese nutritional therapy; ear seeds (placement of small seeds on acupressure points in the ear); or facial rejuvenation acupuncture where small needles are inserted on the face to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Be sure to check with your acupuncturist to find out what specific therapies they are trained in and which services they can offer as part of your treatment plan.
We currently provide acupuncture services at Wiseman Family Practice and accept United Healthcare (UHC), Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), Cigna, and Aetna for our acupuncture services. We also offer a complimentary 15-minute phone consultation for established patients who are interested in starting acupuncture services at our practice. If you are curious about our acupuncture services, are an established patient, and would like more information, please message us through your Patient Portal. If you are a new patient to the practice and have questions about our acupuncture services, please email us here.
Our licensed acupuncturists, Jennifer Seay, LAc and Robyn Brush, LAc (Cedar Park, Central, and Westlake clinics), provide extensive knowledge of acupuncture, bodywork, and herbal medicine. For more about our Wiseman Acupuncture services, please visit Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine on our website.
Resources and References:
- Johans, Thomas G. (2014, Jan-Feb). Acupuncture: A Western Physician’s Experience. Retrieved on February 3, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6179529/
- Zhang, et al. (2012, Feb 22). Acupuncture Use among American Adults: What Acupuncture Practitioners Can Learn from National Health Interview Survey 2007? Retrieved on February 3, 2022 from
- Maurer, et al. (2019, Feb 26). Anatomical Evidence of Acupuncture Meridians in the Human Extracellular Matrix: Results from a Macroscopic and Microscopic Interdisciplinary Multicentre Study on Human Corpses. Retrieved on Feb 3, 2022 from https://www.hindawi.com/journals/ecam/2019/6976892/
- Takahiro et. al. (2012, Dec 13). Traditional Acupuncture Triggers a Local Increase in Adenosine in Human Subjects. Retrieved on Feb 3, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23182227/
- World Health Organization (2002). Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials. Retrieved from https://chiro.org/acupuncture/FULL/Acupuncture_WHO_2003.pdf
- Witt et al. (2009, Apr 16). Safety of acupuncture: results of a prospective observational study with 229,230 patients and introduction of a medical information and consent form. Retrieved on Feb 3, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19420954/
- White A. (2004, Sep 22). A cumulative review of the range and incidence of significant adverse events associated with acupuncture. Retrieved on Feb 3, 2022 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15551936/